If you ask Andy, one of the first things I talked about when I met him was how much I hated motorcycles. I had recently moved back to Austin, was in the midst of a job search during the panicky breakdown of the US financial system, and was surprised to find myself getting dates, actual real-life dates, on a semi-regular basis. Because nothing says “catch” like a 22-year-old unemployed college grad who just moved back in with her parents.
After Andy jogged my memory, I do recall having gone to dinner with a squirrely guy basically because I was hungry and he promised me Italian food just a day or two before Andy and I were set to have drinks at a pub. Classy, I know.
The point is that this guy, while he did buy me a plate of pasta and an iced tea, was doomed from the start, because the first thing he said to me was, “Want to see my motorcycle?”
At that, I basically barfed in my mouth. I hated motorcycles, and by the transient property of equality, the people who drove them, too. Motorcycles were loud, dangerous, and all about style instead of all the practical things one should consider when choosing a form of transportation. Motorcycles were about making the rider feel cool and rebellious, which obviously is only to compensate for a lack of character. Really cool people don’t need motorcycles. All motorcycle riders have a death wish.
I told the guy, “No thanks. I hate motorcycles.” Because I’m honest. Unfortunately, this point was lost on him, and he tried his hardest to ruin my meditative eating pasta zone by telling me exactly how motorcycles are awesome. Over. And over. And over again. The only variety to this monologue was occasionally telling me how much money he makes.
Here is a first date and basic life tip: If you meet someone who says s/he hates something, don’t proceed to converse on this topic exclusively.
Fast forward nearly four years. I live in Thailand and use a scooter as my main form of transportation. In Vietnam, I convinced our group to ride up from Hoi An to Monkey Island in Da Nang, 40 kilometers away. Just a week or so ago, I convinced Andy we needed to ride several hours out-of-town, to the peak of Doi Inthanon. Today, I dumped my visiting Texas friends (Hi Clay! Hi Justin! Hi Clare!) in a scooter rental place and said, “Get one. Now.”
I love riding motorized two-wheel vehicles, aka scooters, motorbikes, or mopeds. It’s got the wind-in-your-hair, independent feeling of riding a bike, without having to do all the legwork yourself. I like how sore my butt gets after a long haul, picking bugs out of my teeth, and reapplying sunscreen on the side of the highway. Kids shoved in the back of pick-up trucks do double takes, seeing that we’re not Thai. It might be more dangerous than buckling yourself into a square piece of steel, but I can also thank Thailand, and the sanook mantra for lightening me up on the safety level a bit.
What’s the point of preserving a boring life, the girl on the vintage Vespa whispers to me as she rides by.
And…now I want to upgrade the power to full motorcycle. Scooty Puff, our little orange Fino is cute, but she clearly has contempt for us when we try to make her lug the both of us up a mountain. She sputters and slows, her engine made for slipping around songthaews and dodging pot holes, not pulling two people too lazy to hike up a steep grade.
If I want to translate my riding experience in Asia to the United States, I will need more power. In the states, motorcycles, scooters, and even bikes, function best when operating not too differently from their four-wheeled counterparts. It’s safest to take the middle of lane, making it less tempting for impatient drivers to pass you when there might not be enough room, and to exist squarely in the line of vision of other motorists. If you can’t be seen in the rearview mirror and a side mirror of the car in front of you, you’re doing it wrong. You have to make it as easy as possible for impatient and aggressive drivers, and acting like a car is generally the best bet. Go too slow? You’re at risk.
In Thailand and Vietnam, cars, pedestrians, and bicycles expect different behavior from motorbikes; they’re supposed to wiggle between cars stopped at intersections, they’re allowed to ride on the shoulder and sometimes sidewalks, and probably most importantly, larger vehicles make way for bikes of all kinds. Cars and trucks, though they take up more space, account for less passenger traffic than bikes of all sort. Cars are the newcomers here, and they don’t feel entitled to road space like they do in America.
So here I am wanting a motorcycle, looking at designs, pinning models I like to Pinterest. The one nagging element, the small moment of doubt in the back of my mind comes in the form of the obnoxious motorcycle culture in the US. If I were to pull up next to another rider, he (or she, but let’s face it, probably he) would want to, like, talk about it. I would be in a club that would too willingly take me on as a member, if only to rub in how much more powerful/manly/whatever the normal motorcycle is when compared to my meager model. If I were to run into the dude mentioned in the anecdote above, or one like him, he would probably list off his bike’s specs with greater enthusiasm and a greater expectation of a response.
The good news is that I have plenty of time left here to design the perfect sign to affix to the back of my hypothetical new motorcycle helmet that will say: NO. I don’t want to talk about your motorcycle with you.
Hi! I'm Susan, and this is my travel journal. You can read more about me here.
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